ANDRZEJ and ROXANNA PANUFNIK – Messages

Andrzej Panufnik was a Polish composer [1914-1991], who wrote three string quartets. Roxanna Panufnik [born 1968] is his daughter. She contributes two quartet movements, and an arrangement of a string sextet written by her father, to the review CD. They are performed by one of my favourite string quartets, the Brodsky Quartet. I intend to discuss two of Panufnik’s String Quartets, Nos. 2 and 3, and also a work for string quartet by his daughter.

String Quartet No. 2 was originally a one-movement work, titled Messages. The Brodskys perform it as a seven-movement piece, not sure why. I have another CD containing it as one movement, and, as the movements are all quite short, for convenience I shall consider it as one movement.

The quartet opens with a lamenting, atonal passage, with the other instruments following the lead of the violin. It’s a terrific, abstract soundscape. Now follows a section where the violin again leads, but this time with slightly dissonant interjections. This morphs into a gentle melodic passage where the two violins express freely, eventually becoming quite rhapsodic. The mood ends with a sweeping chord. After a brief pause the first violin engages the cello in a gentle dialogue. The cello dissipates and the violin goes it alone; this is is a very moving moment. Eventually a sense of agitation arises with the violins becoming quite aggressive.

A solo cello now takes over, using mostly pizzicato. It becomes quite rhythmically incisive. The ensemble returns, in an agitated passage. The music becomes chaotic, almost frenzied. We then have a march-like section, which starts conservatively but quickly moves into an agitated state. The solo cello returns with a rich texture as it negotiates all of its registers with ease. The violins again take control, but the cello is still strong. The mood softens and we have another rewarding, abstract soundscape. A dialogue between the first violin and the ensemble is jerky, and seems to lack direction.

The two violins proceed to take precedence and again the feeling is sporadic. Now they move into another atonal duet and the cello returns; this is another wonderful section. The gentle atonal feeling is very enthralling. The first violin now goes solo and is very soft as it expresses a mood that fades to a conclusion.

String Quartet No. 3 is in five movements and is titled Wycinanki, which translates as ‘Cutouts’. It opens with a sustained violin note, with minimal support; notes are hinted at initially, then build slightly. All the while, the violin keeps up its sustained tone; it’s mostly all you can hear and it remains to the end. I should say that these are all relatively short movements.

The next movement begins with a wonderful, slightly abstract, joyous mood. The violins concoct strange, atonal melodies. For a short period they become agitated, but soon return to sparsity and gently fade out. This movement runs for 2:08!

Now we have a pizzicato opening to the third movement, which is even shorter. Nearing the end, the cello makes for a scurrying passage, and the violins finish it off.

The fourth movement opens with a frenzied atmosphere. A solo violin assumes a strident manner, and there are no holds barred! It is a virtuosic passage which ends abruptly at 1:27.

The final movement is the longest at little over three minutes. It is a fascinating adagio, with sustained violins, and a hint of microtones that bring a powerful character to the piece. It is very static, with not much development. The end comes with a fade of the sustained violins.

These are two very fine quartets. There are some agitated passages, but there is much admirable music here. The last adagio is particularly magical.

As previously mentioned, Roxanna Panufnik contributes two movements for string quartet. They are titled Memories of my Father โ€“ I and II. I intend to discuss the first work, as it is a beautiful piece of abstraction, and very moving.

It opens with a lamenting cello and a violin complements this mood. There are longing, atonal melodies to be found here and, for me, it inhabits a sound world similar to that of Arvo Pรคrt. There are ebbs and flows, but all the while the underlying tone is melancholy. It gently fades after having sustained the mood for over six minutes. This is a transcendent and sublime and, dare I say, spiritual work.

This disc, titled Messages: Chamber Music for Strings also contains String Quartet No. 1 and two string sextets. Song to the Virgin Mary is simply wonderful! The same can be said for the playing of the Brodsky Quartet.

The CD is freely available at Amazon US and UK, and Presto. It is also on Spotify. All of the string quartets are on YouTube, and some of Roxana Panufnik’s other works are also on YouTube.

Listenability: Modern with some sublime moments.

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